Lesson 5: The Article


120. The Greek article was originally a demonstrative pronoun (it was so used in Homer). It was subsequently weakened to the status of article, then serving merely as a pointer. Cf. the article der in German, which serves as article, relative and demonstrative pronoun; in English that is both demonstrative and relative and is related to the article. In Greek the article is definite. Greek does not, strictly speaking, have an indefinite article (corresponding to a, an in English).

For the most part, the article functions in Greek as it does in English. A number of the idiomatic uses of the article in Greek can be learned by observation, and will occasion no difficulty.

0121. The declension of the article serves as the model for the declension of all first and second declension nouns as well as numerous adjectives and pronouns. Since the article provides the basic declension pattern from which so much can be derived, it must be mastered. Prompt mastery will assure rapid control of the bulk of the nominal system.

In addition, the article is often the means at hand for the easy identification (gender, number, case) of other items in the nominal system (e.g. nouns, adjectives, participles) , especially where the declension pattern in question does not correspond to that of the article. The article, in short, is the friendly resolver of many identification problems.

121. The article ὁ, ἡ, τό, the, is declined as follows:

  Singular   Plural
  Masc. Fem. Neut.   Masc. Fem. Neut.
Nom. τό   οἱ αἱ τά
Gen.   τοῦ τῆς τοῦ   τῶν τῶν τῶν
Dat.   τῷ τῇ τῳ   τοῖς ταίς τοῖς
Acc.   τόν τήν τό   τούς τάς τά

The endings of the article are set off merely to call attention to them. It should be noted that the article shows only τ as its stem (appearing in all but four forms).

1210. Mnemonic hints:

1210.1 Four forms do not have initial τ: masc. and fem. nom. sing. and plur. These forms have rough breathing instead.

1210.2 The middle cases (gen. dat.) masc. and neut. are identical in the sing, and plur. respectively.

1210.3 The genitive plural is identical for all genders.

1210.4 The neuter nom. and acc. sing. are identical; the neuter nom. and acc. plur. likewise.

1210.5 The fem. has η in the sing., α in the plur. (except gen. plur.).

122. First and second declension substantives show the endings of the article with three exceptions: masc. nom. sing. adds -ς; neuter nom. and acc. singulars add ν (shown in parenthesis):

  Singular   Plural
  Masc. Fem. Neut.   Masc. Fern. Neut.
Nom. -ο(ς) -ο(ν)   -οι -αι
Gen. -ου -ης -ου   -ων -ων
Dat. -ῳ -ῃ -ῳ   -οις -αις -οις
Acc. -ον -ην -ο(ν)   -ους -ας

Thus, on the basis of the fem. article it is possible to identify the form of all nouns of the first declension, and on the basis of the masc. and neut. articles to identify the form of all nouns of the second declension.

123. The relative pronoun, ὅς, ἥ, ὅ, who, which, that, follows the same pattern as the article. At three points it may easily be confused with the article. Because of its similarity and frequency, it may be learned along with the article. The relative pronoun is declined as follows:

  Singular             Plural           
  Masc. Fem. Neut.   Masc. Fem. Neut.
Nom. ὅς   οἵ αἵ
Gen. οὗ ἧς οὗ   ὧν ὧν ὧν
Dat.   οἷς αἷς οἷς
Acc. ὅν ἥν   οὕς ἅς

1230. Mnemonic hints:

1230.1 The relative pronoun has rough breathing throughout (the masc. and fem. nom. sing. and plur. of the article also have rough breathing, but elsewhere τ).

1230.2 Mnemonic hints 2-5 §1210 apply here also.

1230.3 The masc. nom. sing. has final ς‚ (the corresponding form of the article does not, but second declension masculine nouns do: §122); the neut. nom. and acc. sing., however, do not add final ν as do neuter substantives of the second declension (§122).

1230.4 ἥ (fem. nom. sing.), οἵ, αἵ (masc., fem. nom. plur.) are identical in form with the corresponding forms of the article, except that the forms of the article lack accent: ἡ, οἱ, αἱ. The accent mark is the only means (other than context) of distinguishing these forms. ὅς is distinguishable from ὁ (the corresponding form of the article) by the final ς‚ as well as by the accent mark.

124. It is important to master the declension of the article. Mastery means instant identification (gender, number, case) in context. The most effective practice is scanning a Greek text for articles, at first verbally citing gender, number, case (with options). Then pass as quickly as possible to silent recognition.

Similarly, one may scan a text for relative pronouns. Learn to identify the relative on the basis of the marks that distinguish it from the article.

The following notes on John 8:12-59 will be of help in avoiding initial confusions:

Jn 8:12: οὔ is not to be confused with οὗ (relative): accent and breathing are different.

8:13: οἱ is the article, not the relative: it lacks accent.

8:38: ἃ has grave (`) rather than acute (´) accent: this difference is not significant for the identification of the relative pronoun. Cf. τὰ in 8:39 and ὃς in 8:40.

8:42: ἦν is not to be confused with ἥν (ἣν): the former (which is a form of the verb be) has smooth rather than rough breathing, and a circumflex (~) rather than an acute (´) or grave (`) accent.

1240. Word list:

ὁ, ἡ, τό: the (definite article)
ὅς, ἥ, ὅ: who, which, that (relative pronoun)